MARX MOVIE MADNESS MONTH #27: The Marx Brothers Sit Com
In celebration of Marxfest, every day this month we will be paying tribute to a different Marx Brothers film. While there are only 13 extant cinematic features including the entire team, we will make up the difference with solo film appearances, famous proposed but unfilmed features, lost films, and television projects. We’ll be moving through them chronologically.
In April 1959, the Marx Brothers shot a little bit of what was to have been a situation comedy called The Deputy Seraph. The concept sounds a bit like Touched by an Angel or Highway to Heaven, but with even greater angelic interference. Chico and Harpo are angels whose job it is to go down to earth and manipulate people’s live by inhabiting their bodies and steering them in the right direction. Being Chico and Harpo, they tend to steer them in the wrong direction, thus situation comedy. Every third episode their supervisor, the Deputy Seraph (Groucho) steps in, kicks butt, and helps straighten out messes.
At any rate, the project didn’t get an further than the preliminary shooting stage because Chico didn’t pass the insurance physical. Which is ironic, because of the three, he was the one who most needed the money. He passed away two years later. I seldom lament the demise of this show as one of the great Comedy-Could-Have-Beens. The brothers were older of course but that could have been worked around; in the hands of the right film-makers anybody can be made to look good. Likewise their performances might have transcended the el cheapo look of the show; so many others did (and do). From the admittedly meager evidence the real issue would have been the material. (Incidentally, is it me or is The Deputy Seraph one of the worst titles ever devised? I’m not saying the Marx Brothers weren’t capable of wordplay that bad, but at worst in the old days it would get lost in a barrage of much better jokes. Standing all along like this as the title of a show is like shining a spotlight on a wart).
For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etcTo find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.